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EUROVISION

Melodifestivalen 2022: The rise of Sweden’s Anders Bagge

To many international fans of Melodifestivalen, Anders Bagge wasn't a name on the tips of any tongues to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest this year. However as we approach the final, that is looking like a distinct possibility. Ben Robertson investigates why Anders is so beloved by the Swedish public.

Swedish singer Anders Bagge
Swedish musician Anders Bagge performing at Melodifestivalen 2022. Picture: Annika Berglund, SVT

He also examines the evidence pointing to huge support in the final, and why, despite this, Melodifestivalen’s voting system change weakens his victory chances.

The final act in the third heat of Melodifestivalen was the most anticipated Melfest moment of the year, as 54-year-old Anders Bagge came out to perform his song ‘Bigger Than The Universe.’

Viewers were not disappointed. Anders came out and sang what is a challenging vocal with clarity and power. The Swedish crowd were with him, clapping along as traditional here to show their appreciation, and while the Avicii Arena was far from full it, got a crowd reaction like it was packed to the rafters.

As many expected, he took the first place that night, and as one of the four qualifiers direct to Melodifestivalen’s 12 song final, he is very much in the mix to go all the way to Turin.

Foreign fans of Melodifestivalen may understand the hype behind the other heat winners. That’s because Cornelia Jakobs, Liamoo and Klara Hammarström each are Melodifestivalen veterans, and their appearance this year is for each their third in this musical madness.

Anders? Well the type of Eurovision fans who read ESC Insight intensely may recognise the name. He was one of the composers of two entries for Azerbaijan, ‘Drip Drop’ that finished fifth in 2010 and ‘When the music dies’ that went one place better in 2012.

You’d be lucky to find a Swede who knew that though. Yet millions of people will know Anders and his story like the back of their hand.

Stardom While Trying To Avoid It

Professionally Anders is best known from his work as a music producer. Growing up in Sollentuna on the northern outskirts of Stockholm, he followed his dad Sven-Olaf Bagge into the music studio to learn the craft from his father. If you recognise that name you get extra brownie points in today’s Melodifestivalen quiz – as he was the lyricist behind Sweden’s 1977 Eurovision entry ‘Beatles’.

Anders’ biggest success came from founding his own music production company in 1997, Murlyn Music. They were responsible for some of the biggest Swedish pop exports at the turn of the century, with hits from Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, Madonna and Britney Spears amongst their back catalogue.

But music producers don’t often become household names. How Anders became famous to the public was by becoming one of the faces on what was arguably the biggest commercial rival to Melodifestivalen’s TV supremacy – Idol.

As a judge on that show from 2008 to the present day he oversaw the beginnings of many a name now a Melodifestivalen winner, such as Anna Bergendahl, Robin Stjernberg and Tusse.

For those wanting extra spice to the competition, he was on the jury that turned away a certain 16-year-old Cornelia Jakobs from getting a coveted golden ticket, for which Anders this week has apologised to Cornelia for how the jury treated her.

And while Anders has the tortuous job of saying which new singers are good enough or not each year, there’s been few opportunities where he has sung himself. That’s because he admits he has huge stage fright. In the past that has meant turning down the opportunity to duet with Celine Dion, and throwing up and threatening to withdraw from being an Idol judge the night before the show’s recording was set to begin.

Yet Anders ended up filming that first episode of Idol and has stuck with the gig for over a decade. It is his time on this show that has made him famous and beloved by the Swedish people.

To understand this further I talk to the resident Melodifestivalen expert at Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, Tobbe Ek, who spoke to Anders after his heat 3 victory in an emotional and tearful interview.

“When Anders entered the jury of Idol he was virtually unknown in Sweden. Due to his combination of being like a large, cozy teddy bear, being the one in the Idol jury that always looked after the entrants and always had something nice to say, together with his frailness and open about his stage fright, they have basically propelled him to be something us Swedes would call folkkär (loved by the people).

So how would somebody with such incredible and overwhelming stage fright end up risking it all in Sweden’s biggest TV show?

The answer is via an unusual in-between route that has been one of the biggest TV trends of the year that spread out from South Korea. Masked Singer.

Performing disguised as a cuddly ocean-faring bear, the concept of Masked Singer gave Anders a chance to hide his true identity and face his fears.

Speaking after being eliminated in fourth place in last year’s inaugural Swedish edition, Anders commented. “My self confidence is completely in a crash but after this maybe I dare.”

And Daring He Does

Anders Bagge isn’t just coming to Melodifestivalen this year to sing the alphabet and go home. The song that brought him to the contest, ‘Bigger Than The Universe’ requires a huge vocal that sits firmly in his upper register and requires a big belting vocal throughout the three minutes.

So much so in fact that during rehearsals at Friends Arena Anders pulled back from singing the big notes in an effort to save his voice for when it matters later this week.

Speaking to ThatEurovisionSite, Anders explained that he was suffering from allergies that were affecting his throat and making it harder to sing this week.

“Before I was scared and nervous, but now I’m just nervous”, Anders explains. “Why I’m competing in this show is because I’ve been dreaming about it for twenty five years, and I never dared. I’m doing this because people need to start believing in themselves – and I hope I can send that message.”

“To go to the Eurovision final would be amazing because that would be the same thing as my father did.”

Swedish musician Anders Bagge singing at Melodifestivalen 2022.

Swedish musician Anders Bagge singing at Melodifestivalen 2022. Picture Annika Berglund, SVT

Anders’ song does have a winning pedigree behind it, and not just with its bombastic production and football-chant-esque rousingness. Excluding Anders himself the song is also written alongside Thomas G:Son and Peter Boström, most notable in these circles of winning Melodifestivalen and subsequently Eurovision ten years ago with one of this show’s biggest successes, ‘Euphoria’.

Anders describes ‘Bigger Than The Universe’ as a “real feel good song” and lyrically this is a perfect match for sure.

The song preaches the audience to “trust in fate” as Anders asks them to join him so they can “leave this world a better place”. The thing that is bigger than the universe, is us – living on this majestic planet and joining on this “open ride to eternity.”

It’s a song that very much is in the mix to win on Saturday night. ‘Bigger Than The Universe’ is currently second in the Swedish Spotify charts, and won the Melodifestivalen heat which received the most votes of all the ones that took place. The assumption is that the love for Anders brought in new voters to the competition and they are going to stick with him at the show’s climax.

However, there’s the subtlest of subtle rule changes that might just scupper him at the finish line.

Voting, Juries, And Voting Again

The voting at Melodifestivalen this year works on paper the same way it did last year. Half of the points awarded are to be made up from people voting at home, split into seven different age groups voting via the Melodifestivalen app and one additional group from televoting.

The expectation is that Anders will be loved from young to old and from the huge wave of people expected to televote this year.

That televote volume increase is anticipated because money raised from the fundraising voting line is going fully to those suffering from the invasion of Ukraine from Russia.

Not only is he adored by the nation but the message of ‘Bigger Than The Universe’ is probably the one most relevant of the twelve songs competing for the current world situation. Of the 96 public points possible I am anticipating Anders scoring around 90 of them and possibly the entire full pot. Melodifestivalen has precedence for this, with Tusse’s ‘Voices’ scoring the maximum public vote score last year.

Despite this expected dominance, what puts this Melodifestivalen on a knife edge this year is the inclusion of the international juries. This year there will be eight international juries from countries like Ireland, Australia and Italy that will help to choose Sweden’s Eurovision song. They are tasked with the job to find “which one of these twelve songs will achieve the best placing in Eurovision?

It’s hard to see and hear a Eurovision contender in Anders for those without the back story. When you compare to other acts in the show there are songs that are more commercially produced, that are slicker on stage, that tell stories of raw emotions rather than the somewhat tacky message the lyrics here show.

Melodifestivalen produces year after year songs that do well in the Eurovision Song Contest and being blunt, they don’t look like this and those international juries will know that.

The expectation is therefore that Anders’ will be getting a middling to low jury score, nullifying the advantage from the public vote.

The size of the gap between Anders and the contenders at the front of the back will be key. Polls and media expectation point to the main contender being Cornelia Jakobs with ‘Hold Me Closer’ – a song that is the right type of wrought ballad to be a huge contender for jury points across the board – and then give Sweden another great Eurovision placing.

Yet Cornelia has the opposite conundrum – will this get enough public vote appeal to be in contention? Cornelia qualified in the logistical nightmare that was Melodifestivalen’s heat one where the official app crashed twice, meaning the televote was the only deciding factor.

Cornelia won that, but the asterisk over her heat one victory still remains because the televote is dominated by adult tastes normally (those paying for the phone bill), in contrast to the Melodifestivalen app where the youngest voting bloc for those aged 3-9.

Cornelia’s song about a relationship coming to a devastating end isn’t an obvious connection here, and the question will be how low this group, and the 10-15 year old group, end up placing Cornelia in the voting.

Of course there are songs in Melodifestivalen history that do well with all ages, but there are also many that split the nation and ‘Hold Me Closer’ is a prime example of one that I expect parents from Luleå to Lund to enjoy while it goes over the heads of their children.

And that would be that for this preview, an Anders vs. Cornelia head-to-head that is too close to call, one for his story and the public vote it brings, and another for the song and the quality we believe shines through.

However, that voting tweak I mentioned.

The difference in the 2022 Melodifestivalen final compared to the 2021 Melodifestivalen final is with the app votes. Last year you were entitled to five app votes per song in the Melodifestivalen final. This year you are entitled to ten app votes per song in the Melodifestivalen final – five before the international juries have voted and five more after if you wish.

While voting was always possible in Melodifestivalen after the international juries had revealed their scores, the change to allow for more app votes can be a significant difference. When viewers are presented with the results of the international jury, and are reminded of the chance to vote again, my hypothesis is that they are likely to choose which of those songs deemed still ‘in the mix’ they prefer most.

If that is as we expect including Cornelia Jakobs, and not Anders Bagge, that narrows the gap between the public points and likely swings victory to the former member of Love Generation. This is even true even if Anders Bagge gets loads more votes in this second round of voting from the public – as the votes are not proportional. Instead in this battle for the fight to Turin the eyes are all on the televote scores for acts like Cornelia and if possible fourth or fifth places can be converted in second and third places in each age category. This little nudge to encourage voters to vote again based on who the international juries think is the best choice I anticipate will make just enough of a difference.

Bigger Than Melodifestivalen

Whatever happens on Saturday night I think it’s prudent to say that the Anders Bagge story is unlike any other that we have witnessed in Melodifestivalen in this modern era. Anders Bagge reaches out to a completely different type of viewer and gives them a role model they are proud of to support. His presence is so different from the same old names – the names that viewers are used to who eventually get stuck in the rut of entering the show despite diminishing returns.

If Anders Bagge goes to Eurovision he will be going as the pride of the nation. He will be the ambassador to tell the next generation of Swedes that it is ok to be scared, it is ok to be nervous, that it is ok to doubt yourself. His presence though to perform not just to the nation but for the nation is a huge weight on his shoulders. A weight, following in the footsteps of his father, that is worth the immense bravery it will take him.

Sweden doesn’t see acts like this in the mix to represent the nation normally. This is a country that sees the Eurovision Song Contest as serious competitive business and each year is in it to win it. But sometimes songs and artists come around where it is more important that they take part rather than simply win. Anders being there in Turin will drive Eurovision viewing figures here to record highs, will become a talking point for the nation and will get the ten million Swedes feeling warm and fuzzy as who is effectively the nation’s favourite uncle trot out onto stage.

In the Eurovision Song Contest most songs lose. Most National Finals do not possess songs that have Song Contest winning material in them. But there are many ways to win in the modern day Eurovision Song Contest that go beyond being top of the leaderboard. Anders Bagge representing Sweden would be a victory for the nation no matter if he finished first, thirteenth or twenty fifth.

Sometimes, the power of the Eurovision Song Contest is more than the contest itself.

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MELODIFESTIVALEN

Last Brit Standing: Alexander Grove and his quest for Melfest

In the first heat of Melodifestivalen Brits in Sweden lost the British-Swedish singer Shirley Clamp from the competition. The second heat saw 21-year-old Samira Manners with her distinctive English twang eliminated. Now there’s only one person to save British hopes in Sweden’s biggest TV spectacular - Alexander Grove.

Last Brit Standing: Alexander Grove and his quest for Melfest

Born in London in 1978, Alexander is a classically trained tenor singer with experience studying at, amongst other places, the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, England.

As a soloist Alexander has travelled the world, performing in venues from Japan, the White House and all the way to the Amazon rainforest as well as holding leading roles in numerous operas around Europe. Since 2016 Alexander has been based as an operatic tenor at Gothenburg’s Opera.

However, Alexander’s Melodifestivalen appearance doesn’t see him compete on his own, but instead with the group Tenori that he founded back in Manchester.

Since 2003, the group has been one of Alexander’s projects to take his classical training into the opera-pop crossover genre. While the group originally was made of fellow members from the Royal Northern College of Music, today Tenori exists as a duo.

Alexander’s partner is the Swedish tenor Kalle Leander, who will have the lead role of Anatolj in the Helsingborg Arena production of Chess this summer.

Alexander Grove performs La Stella

Alexander Grove performs La Stella. Photo: Annika Berglund/SVT

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What brought two classically trained singers to the Swedish qualifiers to the Eurovision Song Contest is the song itself.

‘La Stella’ is a product of a team of Swedish songwriters including Bobby Ljunggren, a composer with five Melodifestivalen victories to his name. After being connected to Bobby Ljunggren and listening to various songs it was this one that stuck with the Tenori gentlemen, and they transformed it from the “calm, chilled Mello-pop” as Alexander described it to the crossover number it is today.

Kalle continued, “It was a long journey from the first demo which was nothing like this. Finally, we came up with this hybrid that we felt could actually work for Mello. We put the Italian in it, we put in the harmonies and everyone in the team was happy with the end result.

“This is what Melodifestivalen and Eurovision is all about. It is the massiveness of not holding back. If there is any arena where this should be allowed, it’s this one.”

And as three minutes of Eurovision entertainment, my goodness does the song promise all that Kalle claims. There are hints of James Bond themes in the dark, heavy verses that light up with pastiche Italian choruses – and vocals that knock your socks off.

And to keep the kitsch coming on strong, that oh-so-Eurovision key change has, as Alexander puts it, been “pumped up” – and includes the only pyro curtain in any of the 28 competing Melodifestivalen songs.

“We are in February and March, it is the darkest time of year here in Sweden,” adds Alexander. “When Melodifestivalen comes, it comes with colour, with energy, lights, passion – everybody gives it 120 percent and we’ve tried to do the same. You could say it is kitschy – but it is also Melodifestivalen.”

Signed to Universal, the group are looking to make crossover opera-pop a reality in the Swedish music scene. While die-hard Melodifestivalen fans will be remembering Malena Ernman’s victory in 2009 with her theatrical opera-pop song ‘La Voix’ – thirteen years have passed since with little else existing in this hybrid space both inside and outside the Melodifestivalen circus.

And Tenori forms a group that is a blend of genres. Unsurprisingly, the group has an immense classical repertoire, but their concerts contain opera, pop and film music. Like fellow crossover acts Catherine Jenkins, Russell Watson and Andrea Bocelli, all of whom Alexander names in our interview, the goal of the group is to stretch the boundaries away from what classical singers can do and give that to a broader audience.

And there is no more broad audience than Sweden’s largest entertainment show, and possibly beyond that to the Eurovision Song Contest itself. The group will perform fourth out of the seven acts on Saturday night’s fourth heat.  The top two will qualify directly for the final in two weeks’ time, while the 3rd and 4th placed will qualify for next week’s semi-finals.

You can watch Alexander and Kalle by tuning in to SVT 1 at 20:00, or via streaming service SVTPlay. Viewers based in Sweden will be able to vote for Tenori to the other six acts via telephone (viewers using the higher rate Radiohjälpen number this week will see their donations added to the fund for supporting the people of Ukraine at this time) or via free votes on the Melodifestivalen App.

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